Barcelona are a little bit back to being the best in the world, says Xavi

Xavi Hernández said Barcelona are close to returning to top form as they head into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2021.

Barça will book their place in the last 16 of Europe’s biggest competition on Tuesday if they avoid defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg.

It will be the next step in their progress under Xavi, who this week celebrates two years in charge of the Catalan club, after winning LaLiga and the Spanish Super Cup last season.

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“I can say that the summary so far is that we have been marking the goals we have set, the coaching staff and the team,” said Xavi in ​​a press conference when asked about his position so far.

“We came at a difficult time (2021-22) and we managed to save the season. The second season was very good in terms of results, with two cups, and many times in terms of games, too.

“I think we’re on our way to where we want to be. We have to get our efficiency back. I think we’re doing a good job, but we’re still in the middle.

“We want to bring Barça back to their best form, above all in Europe, but also to dominate domestic competitions.”

Barça last won the Champions League in 2015, when Xavi was still playing for the club, but have steadily declined since then and were eliminated from the group stage in the last two seasons.

They have made a good start to the competition this year, however, winning their opening three games against Antwerp, Porto and Shakhtar.

“We have done our homework so far, with nine points out of nine, and now we have the chance to put a stamp on our first goal, which is to reach the last 16,” added Xavi. “Tuesday represents a great opportunity to do that.”

Despite the rise in fortunes on the continent, Xavi has faced criticism this month after Barça followed up their first defeat of the season, at home to Real Madrid last weekend, with a bottom game at Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Barça beat La Real 1-0, but Xavi called his side’s first-half performance “unacceptable,” although he felt the media had been too harsh since then.

“I think so,” he said when asked if the criticism was exaggerated. “But it will always happen to Barcelona, ​​what we can do is analyze things internally and be honest, which we have done.

“It’s not the intention (to play like we did against La Real). One day we got three points that maybe we didn’t deserve, but in El Clásico we deserved a lot and we didn’t get them.

“We played well against Madrid and we have to get back to being that team we are known for: dominating the ball, pressing high, winning the ball back quickly and playing with intensity.

“We want to emphasize who we are in the games. We want to play well and win a lot, that would be great, but it won’t happen every game.”

Xavi hopes that the return of injured players will give Barca a boost in the coming weeks. Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Koundé all returned to action last week, as did Pedri, who played 30 minutes for Real Sociedad.

“When Pedri has the ball, things happen and everything gets better,” said Xavi. “He is happy to play football…and we should try to help him have more time to play football.

“Pedri enjoyed himself a lot with us, he has scored more goals than before, but it’s clear that he didn’t enjoy himself when he was injured — I didn’t enjoy seeing him injured either.”